Tuesday, December 17, 1811
HMS Royal George heeled gently to starboard. A morning snow shower drifted across the horizon.
Precariously, 23 year old Alexander Lockwood made his way forward at the lookout’s hail. His boots slipped on the ice-coated deck.
“Our luck’s held, Sir. You’re home for Christmas.” The ship’s First Officer smiled, and then turned to a passing sailor. “Bo'sun, my compliments to the Captain. Tell him Niagara Harbour is in sight.”
“Will you winter here?” Lockwood asked.
“One more passage back to Kingston, and we’ll be home too. Shipping’s done for this year.”
As Lockwood grasped the bow rail, his dark hair was speckled by driving snow. The Niagara River lay straight ahead, its waters a broad, pale sheet disappearing into the green depths of Lake Ontario. To Lockwood, the brown western shore looked unchanged. The dock and aging warehouses of Navy Hall, the white lighthouse, and the taverns on Front Street were all the same. Overtopping the leafless November tree line, he could see two towers dedicated to God – one for Anglicans, one for Presbyterians. Homes and shops lined the streets, a village grown into a town over the years of Lockwood’s life. And only a few hundred yards south, on the orchard-ringed Commons were the trenches, earthen mounds and palisades of Fort George. Atop one log-faced redoubt the Union Jack flew from dawn to dusk, marking the border of Upper Canada.
As the ship sailed into the river, the snow-shower swept out over the lake to reveal the eastern shore. There, on a tall point, lay the cut stone walls of Fort Niagara, its parapets lined with cannon, the Stars and Stripes snapping in the wind. The fort had been built by the French, captured by the English, and then ceded to ‘Jonathan’ – as the former colonists were called – after the American Revolution, for reasons no one now understood. Lockwood turned his back as Royal George swung into the western harbour. He shivered in his greatcoat as the ship docked, then followed the season’s last few merchant travellers down the ramp onto the wharf. As he expected, a heavy teamster’s wagon was parked beneath the freight derrick. Its driver was Janie Benjamin’s older brother, Matthew.
Matthew, rising thirty, was a tall black man, a larger image of his father and a lifelong Lockwood family friend. Matthew had taken up the family freight business and was as well known in Niagara as Lockwood himself. Matthew lumbered along the wharf toward his younger friend.
“Do I call you Captain Lockwood now?” asked the towering black man, with a glowing smile and a bear-hug.
“You never called me Ensign or Lieutenant, so why start now?” Lockwood wheezed in his grasp. “How are you, Matt? How’re your parents?
“I’m fine. Ma and Pa too.” Matthew paused for an instant, and then continued carefully. “We’re all fine, Alex.”
For the last five years letters had travelled to and fro between Lockwood and his family, but a single line was more important than any other. A year after he enlisted, his mother Lois wrote, “Last Saturday Janie Benjamin married your old friend Jeremy Roberts in the Methodist Chapel at St. David’s.”
Janie had not replied to Lockwood’s letters. She had not waited as he had begged, prayed, for her to do. Thereafter, he made only a few trips home. Lois chided her son gently for his neglect, but now, after the General’s staffing announcement in the Upper Canada Gazette, Lois thought her son’s heartbreak must be mended. Lockwood, too, supposed himself reconciled to Janie’s decision.
Lockwood glanced down, his bare frozen hand still buried between Matthew’s huge warm paws. “That’s good to hear,” he said, surprised at the catch in his voice. “Yes, I’m glad of that.”
“Last ship o’ the season, for sure,” Matthew said as he released his friend. Matthew squinted through the latest snowfall obscuring the derrick; in its thick rope net dangled crates of sugar cones and spices from the Islands. Still aboard lay casks of rum and wine, hardware, bolts of cloth, and pallets of English manufactures.
“Are your travel chests still aboard?” Matthew asked. “Should I drive you home?”
“I’ve got to report to General Brock first. I don’t know where I’ll be lodging after that.”
“Then let’s go up to the fort now.” Matthew waved toward the newly arrived freight. “I’ll need a couple of days to deliver all this lot anyway.”
Smoke rose from the guard-post chimney. Two red-coated privates of the 41st scurried out onto the frozen road leading from the main gate, one soldier still adjusting his shako strap as he ran to the opposite end of the turnstile. Their corporal followed without delay. Normally the guards would not have bothered – though by regulation they should be at their posts to greet every caller, Bristol-fashion. Anyone could see it was only Matt the teamster driving up the road, but the man on the wagon-bench beside him just might be wearing a military greatcoat. The officer of the day would not be favourably impressed if sentries didn’t properly greet an official visitor at Fort George’s gates. As the wagon approached, the corporal could see that the heavily-cloaked young man did, indeed, have a splash of red uncovered at his throat. The coat fell open as the officer jumped down onto the road.
“Corporal, I’m Alexander Lockwood. You might be expecting a Captain Lockwood, but I’m not dressed for the rank. I’m reporting to the General Staff.”
“Sir!” The corporal growled, enunciating a handful of r’s. He waved to the closest sentry. "Find Major Glegg. Tell him there’s a new staff officer warming himself at the guard-post.”
The soldier hurried pell-mell up the path into the fort.
“If ye’ll just come this way, Sir, we’ve a nice fire goin’ inside.” The corporal turned. “And if you’re staying, Matt, you come too.”
“As I live and breathe, Captain Lockwood!” Major General Isaac Brock exclaimed. “I thought we’d find you frozen on the back of a horse, twenty miles short of York, in January. You must have caught the last sail up from Kingston.”
“Indeed, Sir,” Lockwood said.
Brock had to stoop to pass through almost any door in Upper Canada, and he was at least a stone heavier than the oversized Matthew Benjamin. At forty-two Brock was florid of face, dark of hair, and enthusiastic of demeanour. He was a lifelong soldier, born in Guernsey, with nine years service in the Canadas already behind him.
“It’s as well Major Glegg met you at the gate," he commented. "You’ll be reporting to him.”
Major John Baskerville Glegg, Brock’s Aide-de-Camp, smiled mischievously from behind a small writing-desk. He twirled a goose quill between his fingers as he leaned back to enjoy Lockwood’s first encounter with the commanding general.
Brock settled next to a broad oak desk nestled in one corner of the officers’ mess, where regimental flags of the 41st and 49th decorated the hall. The Union Jack, mounted on a staff, stood beside his desk. “I remember you from when I was Inspecting Officer for Lower Canada. Want to know why?”
“I suppose so, Sir. Or, maybe not,” Lockwood almost laughed. For some reason, he didn’t think Brock would be particularly offended.
“You told me you were in the Army to do some good, Captain. You seemed to mean it. Remember?”
“Not really, General.”
“Well, I did. Looked into your family when I came here. Colonel Mayne is your brother-in-law, yes? Commands a regiment for Wellington, in Spain. Your father led a half-company of Butler’s Rangers during the Rebellion. Most every Loyalist west of Kingston has heard of Asa Lockwood – I asked. And a lot have heard of his son.”
“Yes, Sir, ” Lockwood said with some incredulity.
“Of course, it’s all Simcoe’s fault!”
“Sir?” Lockwood asked.
“Old Governor Simcoe. You know what I mean! After the Loyalists, he let in all those Yankees and Dissenters. Now, not one man in five actually fought for the Crown. God knows if a single one would fight today. It fair shrinks my liver to think on it.”
Lockwood was aghast. After a moment, he thought to close his mouth.
“Of course, you realise we’ll be at war with Jonathan before the year’s out,” Brock continued. “They’ve already bestirred themselves to gobble up more Indian land in the West, at a place called Prophetstown. Soon enough, they’ll cross the Detroit River, looking for us. God’s Wounds, they’ll come across the Niagara River to knock on our front door!”
Major Glegg smiled as the General ranted. Glegg had heard it all before and knew what came next.
“And do you know who’s going to stop ’em, Captain Lockwood?” Brock peered expectantly at the bewildered young officer. “You and I, Captain Lockwood. You and I!”
Brock warmed to his topic.
“You’re going to be my eyes and ears, my counselor and spy. That’ll be your job, Captain. You’ll talk and listen to every man in this province and tell me what he thinks, what he wants, what he fears. The demoralized will complain to you, knowing you have my ear. The loyal will tell you their concerns. And from what you learn, we must somehow cobble together a public resolve to resist what’s coming. For the Lord knows, if we’re attacked tomorrow, not a militiaman will stand and fight. Upper Canada will vanish in a twinkling.”
“You mustn’t take it too much to heart, Captain Lockwood,” Glegg said later that afternoon. “General Brock has a way of making everyone think what they do is important.”
After the meeting in the mess hall, Glegg and Lockwood had retreated to the canvas covered northeastern bastion. They leaned against the parapet to watch sleet falling on the river and the Yankee fort beyond.
“Of course, Brock’s right,” Glegg said. “The recent immigrants will be completely useless when the fight comes. A good number are Quakers and Mennonites. Some folks, even a few in the Assembly, hope we’ll be invaded. And people with even an ounce of allegiance are frightened, frightened they’ll lose everything again, frightened of their neighbours who don’t care a toss for King and Country.”
“I knew it was bad,” Lockwood began, “but I never dreamed....What can we do?”
“Not a clue, Captain. Not a clue. We’re hoping you can help us with that.”
Glegg’s laughter rolled down the snow-sprinkled parapet, out toward the river.